1. Update on Tantallon fire
As of this morning, the Tantallon Fire is 50% contained.
“Containment” means that a perimeter has been established around a fire. In the case of the Tantallon fire, much of that perimeter line consists of topsoil mechanically scraped down to bedrock, depriving the fire of fuel to grow.
Halifax Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum described last night’s fire situation as “relatively quiet and tame.” The evacuation order was lifted for the Indigo Hills neighbourhood; residents with ID showing their address can return via Margeson Drive, and still be prepared to re-evacuate on 30 minutes’ notice.
Still, today will be difficult. Dave Steeves, technician of forest resources with the Department of Natural Resources, said that due to very high temperatures expected, today will be “an aggressive fire day” with lots of flare ups and spot fires, resulting in lots of smoke in the Halifax area. Steeves was particularly concerned about the health of the firefighters in what can be extreme heat.
The response today includes 10 engines, 15 tankers, two specialty brush units from the Department of National Defence, and more than 130 firefighters. Firefighters from the New London, P.E.I. fire department arrived on Wednesday.
Additionally, the 20 firefighters who were sent to Northwest Territories are back in Nova Scotia and are now on the ground fighting the Tantallon fire, and firefighters from the United States are expected to arrive today.
Meldrum said the Farmers Dairy Lane fire is 80% contained, and fire managers feel good about that fire.
Officials would not give details, but said there is an active investigation into the cause of the Tantallon fire. They do not know yet if the Farmers Dairy Lane Fire started independently or from embers from the larger Tantallon fire.
All destroyed and damaged structures in the Tantallon fire are have been identified, and property owners are being contacted today.
2. New fire in Shelburne County while other fires remain out of control
Jennifer Henderson is in Shelburne County and has this report on a new fire that started on Lake Road last night. That fire cover 20 hectares and is out of control. That adds to other fires in Shelburne County, Barrington Lake, and East Pubnico that are still out of control, too. From Henderson:
Twenty firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) are battling the fire, along with three helicopters and one water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador. As the Examiner reported on Wednesday, volunteer firefighters in Shelburne pleaded for more help, including water bombers and air support, saying the fire was too hot to fight from the ground.
A video here shows the smoke billowing over the county as well as damage to a roadway bridge between Clyde River and Port Clyde.
Patients at the Roseway Hospital in Shelburne were evacuated to other hospitals due to the poor air quality. Several hundred residents along Lake Road, Sandy Point Road, as well as in Jordan Bay and Jordan Falls were also told to leave their homes — many of whom are involved in the lobster fishery. On Wednesday morning at Sandy Point Road, there was smoke visible from another fire burning across the bay.
The cause of the latest fire near the town of Shelburne is unknown, but it increases the jeopardy for 15,000 people living in Shelburne County, where a fire covering 170 square kilometres has been burning out of control since Sunday.
Henderson also has this story from Wednesday when she spoke with people on the ground in Shelburne County, including volunteer firefighters who pleaded for more help fighting the fire.
“Please send more water bombers; more air support,” said Andy Blackmer, a volunteer firefighter in Shelburne County with 30 years’ experience. “It’s the only thing that will make a difference right now. It’s too hot on the ground and there is too much fire.”
There are 70 firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables and more than 40 volunteer and municipal firefighters fighting this fire. One helicopter, two water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador, and eight airplanes from New Brunswick are also on the scene. The airplanes disperse a mixture of water and fire retardant.
Henderson also spoke with some tourists who were visiting from Germany. They were staying with friends in Northeast Harbour, just outside of Birchtown, but then they were all evacuated. Here’s what they had to say about the fires:
“Why is there fire?” asked the German visitors. “We see this in Europe, in Spain, and France, late in the summer. Why here?”
“Premier Tim Houston is pleading for firefighting help from the federal government and rejecting any suggestion that the province hasn’t been asking for it,” Tim Bousquet and Zane Woodford reported on Wednesday.
Wildfires in Barrington Lake, in Shelburne County; Pubnico in Yarmouth County; and Tantallon in HRM are all out of control. They covered nearly 19,000 hectares in total as of Wednesday afternoon, and there are more than 300 firefighters working along with eight helicopters and 10 planes.
Houston said during a media availability on Wednesday that he sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a list of requests for help fighting the province’s fires.
“The prime minister has told me time and time again that he will be there, that the federal government would be there for Nova Scotians. We need them to be there for Nova Scotians,” Houston said.
“We have made the ask. Over the last few days there have been several requests of the federal government.”
Houston sent a letter (read it here) to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailing exactly what the province needs to fight the fires. Houston also addressed rumours that he hadn’t asked for help from the feds at all, calling those suggestions “ridiculous.”
5. Community supporting evacuation centre
Staff, volunteers, and evacuees at the evacuation centre at the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park say the support from the community has been “overwhelming.” I was at the centre on Wednesday chatting with a few people, including Matt Cottingham with the Red Cross.
“It’s been such a highlight to see how the region and community have come together to support each other,” Cottingham said. “People are definitely hurting, but there’s also been an outpouring of compassion and understanding.”
Cottingham also talked about how people can help out, noting that donating money to groups like the Red Cross, United Way, and Salvation Army is the best way to help. Here’s Cottingham again:
“Donating money to those lines is the easiest way for us to stay flexible and meet the demands as they rise because materials are hard to give out when someone might not need that right now. Once it’s in our possession, we have to keep it with us. We have very limited storage space. Food can spoil. With money, we can stay flexible.”
There are also several groups at the evacuation centre, including the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which are answering questions and offering other support to people displaced by the fires.
6. Wildfires and lung health
Yvette d’Entremont spoke with Dr. Meredith Chiasson, a Halifax-based respirologist, about how the smoke from the wildfires can effect people with lung diseases, but also people with healthy lungs.
Chiasson’s short message: stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. From d’Entremont’s interview:
HE: What are some of the things to watch for/consider pertaining to lung health if A) you’re a healthy person and B) if you’re caring for a child or older adults and/or those with pre-existing conditions?
MC: If you are a healthy person you can still be affected by smoke, even if (it’s) just sore eyes, cough. Don’t feel that it is safe to be outdoors for a prolonged period just because you are healthy.
Please do not exercise outdoors, especially if you can smell smoke. Protect your lungs, they are fragile and easily damaged, and the damage can be permanent.
If you are caring for someone who is vulnerable, keep them inside with windows and doors closed. If they exhibit symptoms that are concerning (shortness of breath, respiratory distress) consider calling 811 or bring them to the hospital to be assessed.
7. Paper Excellence
“The Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources had invited Jackson Wijaya, said to be the “sole owner and shareholder” of Canada’s largest pulp and paper company, to appear before it. In his place, the committee got four Paper Excellence executives,” writes Joan Baxter.
If the idea was that the executives would be able to appease the committee, it failed rather spectacularly.
At yesterday’s committee meeting, NDP natural resources critic and MP for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, introduced a motion to change the invitation to the elusive Wijaya, to a summons:
Given the fact that the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources has a mandate to examine issues of natural resource policy on behalf of the Canadian people, and given the fact that the committee is attempting to get answers regarding the ownership structure of Paper Excellence, now reported to be holding 22 million hectares of Canadian forests, and given public reports that this company has relations with Asia Pulp and Paper and may be part of the holdings of the giant Indonesian company Sinar Mas, and given the outstanding concerns about connections to China-based banks and industrial operations, that pursuant to Standing Order 1081a [which stated that Wijaya be invited to appear before the committee], … the committee issue a summons for Jackson Wijaya of Paper Excellence to appear at a date and time to be determined by the chair and no later than June 20, 2023.
In response to Angus’ motion, committee chair, Liberal MP John Aldag, pointed out, “Our jurisdiction doesn’t extend beyond Canada,” and said they would have to discuss that when the motion is brought forward.
Angus later told the Halifax Examiner that his motion is before the committee, but he doesn’t know when it will be debated. “Hopefully soon,” he wrote in an email.
8. Halifax Fire News, and getting information out beyond social media
On Twitter, I’ve been following the account of Halifax Fire News, which been sharing details of the wildfires since they started on Sunday. Halifax Fire News, as its name suggests, has been sharing fire news on that social media site since November 2015. The account has more than 57,000 followers. It’s a useful service and I suspect more people have signed up for Twitter to follow along, too.
We don’t know much about the person behind Halifax Fire News. I had planned on learning more at some point, but last night, that man behind the account — we do know it’s a man — decided to answer questions from followers. Most of the questions were about the fires, but like me, many followers were curious about the person behind the account. During last night’s Q&A, one follower asked about his age, occupation, and how they get all their information. Here’s his answer:
I prefer to remain anonymous as the page has gained a wide following and I’d like to simply maintain my privacy and go about my hobby. I get my information from a wide variety of sources. Since a lot of people have been asking how to refer to me, I’ll confirm I’m male.
Here’s a response to a question from a follower asking why he started this Twitter account in the first place:
Long story short I was interested in the fire department and felt there was a gap in information being shared, so I started this as a hobby/experiment. Turned out I enjoyed it and still do and all these years later here we are. A little unusual for sure but a rewarding hobby.
And here’s what he said to a follower who asked if he was sanctioned to give out information:
No and I don’t need to be. I’m not breaking any rules or laws. This is a news page like any other news page. I’ve always made it clear this is an unofficial page not affiliated with HRFE. That said, I take a lot of pride in being accurate and using discretion in what I share.
Another follower wanted to know what questions they shouldn’t ask him. His response:
Good question. There are a lot of questions that nobody can answer, for example, what the future of evacuations will look like, when orders will get lifted, etc. You’d need a crystal ball for those things. Unfortunately, we have to wait and see.
Someone asked him how he’s doing mentally. He said, “I’m doing fine, thank you. Appreciate the question.”
Another followers as if he wants to be premier. His response: “Hell no.”
Halifax Fire News is providing an important service on Twitter. And other groups, such as Shelburne County East Emergency Management, are doing similar updates elsewhere, including on Facebook. This is great. But, of course, not everyone is on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites. And even for those online, we’ve experienced a loss of internet service in emergencies.
Many Nova Scotians don’t have computers, a smartphone, or a computer, so they can’t access information online or even through those many alerts we’ve been getting since Sunday. I was thinking about this issue of communication and recalled a bit I read in Vol. 4 of the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report where it talks about the public alert warning system and getting information out to Nova Scotians in emergencies.
Trishe Colman is a senior safety coordinator for Cumberland County and provides in-person, advocacy, and navigation services to people over the age of 55. She spoke at a roundtable discussion with the Mass Casualty Commission about how the people she works with are affected by the lack of information during an emergency:
Well, I can’t really give numbers, but I can say that a significant portion of the vulnerable clients that I see in their homes struggle with poverty issues. They don’t have Smartphones. Many of them don’t have cell phones or phones at all, so whatever alert system that operates on that platform isn’t going to reach them at all. Cumberland County’s a very rural county. A lot of my seniors are isolated. They don’t have family. Their neighbours are not close by. A lot of them – well, it could very well be the case that I’m the only person they see other than perhaps a VON nurse, so they really are not connected socially.
They’re not on Facebook. They don’t use Twitter. They don’t use instagram, any of those kinds of things, so they don’t have internet. So even getting a phone or a tablet in their hands doesn’t solve all of those issues and, as I said, Cumberland’s a very rural county. And I travel all over making my home visits, and I have discovered that even some of the bigger centres – like Pugwash, for instance, is a town – there’s no cell coverage there, so even if you have the ability to have a Smartphone, you may not be able to even get service.
There really are people who enjoy and follow social media who think everyone is online somehow. They’re not. And even if the province had better internet coverage, which it should, not everyone will get online. So, where does that leave those folks during an emergency?
In the report, Colman said there’s a local radio station in Amherst, but its reach doesn’t extend beyond a half-hour drive outside of town. And some of her clients don’t have TV. She said a lot of people, including seniors, “just operate outside the alert system we have now.”
I was just struck by the fact that the folks who might need the information the most, depending on the nature of the alert, so the vulnerable who are vulnerable because of isolation, poverty, mental illness, geography, all of those things, lack of infrastructure, the folks that might need the information the most are the least likely to get that information.
And so the technology or the content of the alert is, in a lot of ways, irrelevant to the kind of clients that I see on a day-to-day basis because they’re not seeing them anyway. So just – I mean, my role was just to speak for those that I think may not otherwise be heard, and that would be the message that I, you know, want to impart is that we need to find a way to include those folks that right now are just outside of what’s happening.
I don’t know how we get that information out to those folks. Going door to door? It will depend on the emergency. But it’s crucial to think about because there will be more emergencies.
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — agenda
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — agenda
After Popular Attention Washes Away: Check-in post-Fiona (Friday, 12pm, online) — Zoom panel discussion, info and registration here
In the harbour
06:00: MSC Manzanillo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
09:15: One Hawk, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Dubai
11:30: Minerva Oceana, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from IJmuiden, Netherlands
12:00: Flintstone, pipe burying vessel, sails from IEL for El Ferrol, Spain
13:00: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Charlottetown
14:00: Atlantic Marlin, cargo barge, moves from Dartmouth Cove to IEL
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
19:00: Lake Pearl, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
20:30: MSC Manzanillo sails for sea
09:00: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, arrive at Aulds Cove quarry from Souris, Quebec
10:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) from sea
12:00: Sheila Ann, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Point Tupper
13:00: Algoma Mariner, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Halifax
15:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Halifax
Today starts our June subscription drive. We’ll share more details over the next few weeks, but, of course, we’ve been working on reporting on the wildfires across Nova Scotia. If you’d like to subscribe to support our work, we greatly appreciate it! You can subscribe here. Thank you!